How Zeena Schreck Escaped the Church of Satan
In honor of the release of Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film, The Master, VICE will be cherry-picking articles from our vault of the peculiar and grotesque that have to do with strange sects and cults. Keep checking VICE.com throughout the week as we roll out more of these oldies but creepies.
Zeena standing at the edge of the Grunewaldsee in Berlin. Portrait By Florian Büttner
Even by the standards of New Agey, cult-friendly LA, Zeena Schreck had a bizarre and abusive upbringing at the hands of parents who made the devil more famous than he’s ever been. Zeena is the daughter of Church of Satan (CoS) founders Anton LaVey and Diane Hegarty, as well as the recipient of its first baptism.
By 13, she had been completely indoctrinated by the CoS, received death threats regularly, and was pregnant. She went on to be ordained the CoS’s high priestess and spokesperson just as Reagan-era yuppies began to completely freak over tales of children being sacrificed in the woods by her congregation.
Against all odds, Zeena managed to rebel against the self-absorbed zealots who raised her and left the church in 1990 with her husband, Nikolas Schreck. In 2002, the couple founded the Sethian Liberation Movement, a religious body that allows people to learn and practice magic without answering to an oppressive sect and helps free ex-cult members from their troubled pasts. Somehow, she’s managed to turn her life of chaos into one of spiritual peace, and while I can’t say for sure whether she has magical powers, several times during our interview she seemed to anticipate exactly what I was going to ask her.
VICE: Do you remember the first days of Satanism or was that before your time?
Zeena Schreck: My father was experimenting with various gimmicks: holding Friday-night lectures he referred to as the “magic circle,” hosting burlesque shows with strippers dressed up as witches and vampires, but nothing that was necessarily “Satanic.” He had a pet lion he would take around with him on the streets of San Francisco, so he really was doing whatever he could to market himself locally. It wasn’t until a publicist wrote a story about him that referred to him as the “first priest of Satan” that he got the idea he could start his own religion. It was very similar to the way L. Ron Hubbard started Scientology, and the same way all of these cults spring up in California. My mother was mortified because she just wanted to be like the Addams Family, but it all took off so quickly and spun very much out of his control.
Did you interact with his initial followers? What were they like?
He had followers who took things very seriously and genuinely believed in this entity Satan and not so much in Anton LaVey’s idea of Satanism. As it turns out, he wasn’t very knowledgeable on the subject and, in essence, created a postmodern version of Satanism as he went along. It was a manifestation of his ego.
Did he fully know what he was getting into?
He was very confused, and as a result, so are the inheritors of the church. He’s been accused of being a con man—which is accurate—but he wasn’t a very efficient one. He was lazy and never planned for the future or looked after his family because that is the nature of LaVeyan Satanism: Get what you can, live only in the here and now, care only about yourself, and get other people to care for you. It’s like you’re one big infant.
What was it like living under a roof owned by a guy who was responsible for a national freak-out over Satanic practices?
We were not liked in our neighborhood, as our presence created a lot of disharmony. He attracted a lot of psychopaths who’d leave threatening answering-machine messages that we had no choice but to listen to day and night. I’ve gotten over most of the traumas of my childhood, including when I was 11 and had to transcribe these messages for the SFPD describing in great detail how I’d be killed and raped. I was also trained to take down the license plate of any car that sat out front for too long because vandals would throw eggs and bombs and shoot bullets at the house. The sound of a car engine still gets to me this day—the sound that always preceded an attack—Satanism was not a beloved thing.
Did your parents warn you about the difficulties you would undoubtedly face as their child?
I had to defend myself because my parents wouldn’t get out of bed to defend me. They had other people caring for me since they were too wrapped up in their own problems and fought constantly. This mentality—along with our dysfunctional relationships and my father’s violence, fear, and paranoia—were the forces behind his teachings.